Friday, October 27, 2017

A Murderous Weekend by Sarah Wisseman

I had the great pleasure of attending our regional mystery conference, Magna cum Murder, in Indianapolis last weekend. This wonderful con started as a house party for writers and fans, held in a small hotel in Muncie, Indiana over twenty years ago.

Although the conference has moved venues twice, once to a convention hall in Muncie (rather impersonal and far from hotels) and second to the Columbia Club (a comfortable, atmospheric private club building in Indy).

Magna remains a friendly and warm conference, both for newbies and returning attendees. It attracts many readers, who enjoy having informal opportunities to talk with authors. The authors' experiences are enriched by these readers, and new friendships form every year. Even the hotel staff enjoys the conference: they comment on how strange it is hearing people talk about murder in the elevators.

The panels deal with both writing mechanics (e-publishing, marketing) and author experiences, such as showing up at a bookstore for a signing and discovering no advance publicity means only three people show up. This seems to have happened to every author at least once (moral: do your own publicity for every event, and that includes online events!).

I always come home with some new insight from both the panels I attend and the ones I am on. This time, it was how different authors revise their manuscripts and get them ready to submit. The best advice: while critique groups can be helpful, beta readers are better. A beta reader is a trusted friend, usually also a writer, who can evaluate a manuscript frankly and tell you where the weaknesses are. In my case, it's usually sections that are not developed enough. A character may not react as fully as she could to a sudden change in circumstances or the odd behavior of a colleague. Or the dialogue falls short, leaving too many questions in the reader's mind.

Finally, writing is a solitary pursuit. Attending a good conference is like a breath of fresh air and an affirmation of the writing life. Yes, there are others out there who live in their heads and plot murders while cooking dinner. Best of all, the weekend reminds me that many people still love reading and talking about good stories.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Writing Life

If someone tells you writing is easy and anyone can do it, don't listen - they are not a writer!

That is not to say that sometimes the muse is dancing on the page as you splash flowering prose upon it. Most of us don't have that lovely experience every time we sit down to write. Often the page is this blank, daunting, empty space that says "I dare you to write on me!" That's when I get tough and start writing whatever comes to my mind. I look at a photo or note on my tack board and let the words flow from my fingers. And sometimes it develops into a really awesome line or revelation about a story or scene I'm writing.

What stops the flow? Life, mostly. Illness. Death. Laundry. Cooking. Cleaning. Day-job. "There's always something" that needs to be done.

We find our writing time squeezed into a crack in the stone. There's a photo on my calendar of a flower growing from just such a crack. A little soil blew in with a tiny seed.
A little rain. And something wonderful and green sprouts.

If you're lucky, that's how stories begin. You find a crack of time, you're struck by something. Perhaps the unusual checker at the grocer, how she speaks, how she wears her hair and suddenly a seed is planted of a quirky character that she invokes in your mind. Jot it down, because you may get busy getting groceries or putting them away and forget. Stick that note somewhere you will be sure to find it. Then when the kids are asleep and hubby is watching the football game, slip it out, turn on your computer or grab a notebook and start writing a scene.

The rain will come and one scene will grown into another. Your story blooms you find yourself dancing in the rain with your muse because you have been inspired. And it all started in the check-out line at the grocery store!

If we're smart, we mine our lives for people, places and things that are interesting and compelling. Things that hold good soil and good seeds that will grow into a story.

I like to read stories that have true to life characters in situations that I can relate to. We've all felt tension, fear, love, joy, sadness - and experiences like those stick with us. When we delve into a book that brings those types of feelings back we usually can't put it down.

As a writer - we are "driven" to create that feeling in others through our stories and that is not easy. Okay, let's define "easy." Capable of being accomplished with ease - not difficult. Free from worry, anxiety, or pain. Relaxed - easygoing. Not strict - lenient. Not hurried or forced - moderate. Readily obtainable. I don't think any of these things apply to writing. Do you?

As you move along the writing journey, you will have times when you crave inspiration. When that happens to me, I turn to nature and also to books. Some of the most inspiring books I've read over the years include "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott; "On Writing" by Stephen King, "The Right to Write" and "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. They are lots more, but these I've kept and gone back to, time and time again.

Be open. Be joyful. Be diligent. And keep writing.
Author of the "feisty family series" and a novel of romantic suspense: "Your Every Move."

Friday, October 13, 2017

Going Indie by Nancy J. Cohen

It is our great pleasure to welcome Nancy J. Cohen as our guest blogger today. Nancy writes the Bad Hair Day Mysteries featuring South Florida hairstylist Marla Vail. Titles in this series have made the IMBA bestseller list, been selected by Suspense Magazine as best cozy mystery, and won third place in the Arizona Literary Awards. Nancy has also written the instructional guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery. Her imaginative romances, including the Drift Lords series, have proven popular with fans as well. Her first book in this genre won the HOLT Medallion Award. A featured speaker at libraries, conferences, and community events, she is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who's Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets. When not busy writing, Nancy enjoys fine dining, cruising, visiting Disney World, and shopping.

It’s a frightful step to go indie after you’ve been traditionally published. You’re used to the publisher making decisions regarding cover art and interior layout. They send review copies to the major reviewers. They may even run BookBub ads or sales that boost your readership. But they also control pricing, distribution, and subrights.

When you go it alone, you face major decisions. Should you start your own imprint? Do you need to buy your own ISBNs? Where do you find reliable people for your production team?

Once you start the process, you may wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. You have full input on the cover design. You can determine the pricing for your print and ebook editions. You can choose to go direct to the vendors or use a third-party aggregate. You can bundle your books together in a box set or contribute a title to a multi-author package. You can enroll in ACX and do audiobook editions, or sell mass market or large print rights. Some agents offer a subsidiary rights deal for indie authors.

You’ll still have to do the same amount of marketing. It might take extra effort to find reviewers and bloggers willing to read your indie book, unless you’ve established a following. Getting these initial reviews can be hard. Another way to gain recognition is through writing contests that accept indie authors for published books. Search and you shall find.

Regarding print editions, do you use Createspace, IngramSpark, or another choice like Nook Press? You’ll have to make these decisions and more, like do you want a laminated hardcover edition for libraries? What size trade paperback? How can you order print arcs?

For sure, it’s a steep learning curve for each step along the way. Hopefully, you’ll earn enough income to offset production expenses. At least going indie now isn’t the quagmire it used to be in the past, assuming you hire editors and produce a professional product. Indie authors have lots of support out there in the writing community.

If you’re unsure about taking this step, try self-publishing a novella in your series first. Figure out the legalities and develop your production team. This will give you a head start if you decide to break off on your own with a full-length novel. Learn marketing strategies and attend conferences that have workshops for indie authors. Meet the reps from the various vendor sites. And have faith in yourself.

As for me, I’ve been indie publishing revised backlist Author’s Editions of my mystery titles. I’d indie published Writing the Cozy Mystery and Haunted Hair Nights. And I’m about to step off the cliff with Hair Brained, my first indie-published original full-length novel. This comes after having twenty-one books plus a novella traditionally published. It’s a risk, but I’m excited about the possibilities. I hope I’ll have your support.


When hairstylist Marla Vail’s best friend is hurt in a suspicious car accident, Marla assumes guardianship of her infant son. No sooner does Marla say, “Baby want a bottle?” than she’s embroiled in another murder investigation. Her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, determines the crash may not have been an accident after all. But then, who would want Tally—or Ken in the car with her—out of the way? As Marla digs deeper into her friends’ lives, she realizes she didn’t know them as well as she’d thought. Nonetheless, it’s her duty as their son’s guardian to ensure his safety, even if it means putting her own life at risk. Can she protect the baby and find the culprit before someone else ends up as roadkill?


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Friday, October 6, 2017

The Final Read-through, by Susan Oleksiw

When I begin writing a new novel or short story I feel a suppressed excitement, anticipating the pleasure of watching the story and characters unfold on the page. This sensation soon fades because I’m lost in writing scene after scene, struggling over the right expression, and discovering aspects of the characters I hadn’t expected.

After the first draft is done, I begin rewriting and editing. This is the real work—sometimes a slash and burn experience, and sometimes a line by line redo of something I thought was almost half way finished. I do five or six, sometimes more, drafts. I compose on the computer, but I print out each draft, working on hard copy. Yes, that’s a lot of paper. But I see on paper things I don’t see on the screen. And then comes the final read-through.

I know I’ve reached the last stage when my rewriting of a draft means more tinkering than improving. I don’t discover a missing scene, find two characters who should be combined into one, or change my mind about the villain—or the victim. But this does not mean all is well. Sometimes I find that after focusing intently on each brick and door frame and window pane I’ve messed up the design of the total structure. Perhaps this can be easily fixed, perhaps not. But whatever the state, it means more work. This is not the final read-through.

The final read-through is challenging in a different way. During this last step I am looking for problems but I should not find any. This is when I change a word or two—as a matter of personal preference rather than correcting an error—ponder the occasional comma I might remove or add, and check to make sure I haven’t changed a character’s name or eye color halfway through. I expect the manuscript to be polished and the reading to be fluid and consistent.

This sounds like a wonderful stage to reach, and it is. But there is a danger, and that is that by not finding anything to slow me down, I will begin to read faster and faster, too fast to pick up on little slips—to for too, effect for affect, a misspelling of a character’s last name, and the like. This stage is not copyediting—that should have been done in the previous reading.

It’s hard to read slowly when most of us have been trained to read rapidly, perhaps even to speed read. But some years ago, when I was a free-lance editor, I learned a trick that has served me well. We do not read each letter in every word. Instead, we read by the shapes of words, and the faster we read, the more likely we are to read by the shape of the top of the line of letters and then words. Indeed, if you block out the lower half of the letters on a line, most of us can read the line just as clearly.

When I feel my eyes lifting from the line and skimming across the tops of words, I stop reading and turn back a page. Awareness follows action, so I make the safe assumption that I began reading by the shape of words earlier than when I first noticed it. This practice ensures I’ll read slowly enough to stay centered in the story, aware of the entire sentence, and catch any goofs or errors so obvious that my mind wants to correct them automatically.

I do the same with short fiction, but I also read short stories aloud. If I’m unsure of a particular chapter in a novel, I’ll read that aloud also. In some cases I’ve read all the individual chapters of a novel aloud but not necessarily in sequence or all at one sitting.

As proofreaders know, you can’t hurry a careful, attentive reading without missing something. The goal is to make the manuscript as error-free as possible. The natural rate of error for human endeavors is 2 percent (a librarian told me that). That would be 1,640 errors (typos, usually, but also spacing and the like) in an 82,000 word manuscript. Almost every writer I know would be appalled at that figure. Which tells me that most of us have figured out how to see what the brain doesn’t want to see, and fix more than is expected of us as human beings. Perhaps that’s why we’re writers.

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